Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
Annoyingly, my Mill Creek Sherlock Holmes DVD set only includes four of the fourteen Basil Rathbone features. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon was the fourth in the series, and the earliest one included in my set. It's also the first Rathbone Holmes film I've seen.
I've always been fascinated by World War II-era stories about popular fiction characters engaging in the war effort. The Famous Studios Superman shorts from 1942, for instance, are really interesting bits of propaganda. Holmes has operated in both Victorian London and the times contemporaneous with the production of the films or TV series at hand, so watching him save Great Britain from the Nazis didn't really faze me. It's a testament to the pliability of the character that he can be interpreted so many different ways. I'd say he's second only to Batman in that respect. (Some may argue Holmes is even more malleable than Batman, but they're wrong because, Batman.)
Rathbone is a peculiar looking man, who almost certainly had to wind up playing Sherlock Holmes if only because of that wild head of hair of his. He looks like an eccentric, the kind of guy who would probably have preferred to play Holmes as the opium addict described by Doyle had the film censors permitted him to do so. I wasn't terribly taken by Nigel Bruce's perfunctory and somewhat inept Dr. Watson. I didn't really feel there was much chemistry between the two actors, at least not in this picture.
The plot itself is fairly solid, though I confess I've already grown tired of Professor Moriarty looming so large in so many of the Holmes movies I've seen. I partially attribute that fatigue to having enjoyed the 1954 TV series starring Ronald Howard, where not once in 39 episodes did Moriarty appear. Holmes stories can be told without the professor lurking behind every single scheme!
This film in particular felt more like a serial than a feature film to me, built around a series of cliffhanger moments spaced out every eight minutes or so. It's adequate for the film, certainly, but it just feels...thin, I guess. It's predictable, but unlike A Study in Scarlet, nothing was ever introduced in this film that made me question just how far the story would expand. I basically just waited for everything that was spelled out to be played out.
Final analysis: high marks for Rathbone and the Holmes-in-WWII premise, but demerits for Bruce, the reliance on Moriarty and the actual execution of the story.
How Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon Entered My Flickchart
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon < Presto --> #1503
I quite like Rathbone as Holmes and I dig the novelty of him in World War II, but otherwise I found Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon kinda "meh". Going with Presto for the sheer fun of it.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > U-Turn --> #1134
I haven't seen U-Turn since it played theaters. I only remember the mood of the film, really. Advantage: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon!
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > Spider-Man 3 --> #945
Though I wasn't terribly impressed by Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon overall, I really liked Rathbone as Holmes and the novelty of Holmes in World War II. That's more than I liked about Spider-Man 3.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon < Mr. Saturday Night --> #945
Mr. Saturday Night is one of those movies I remember enjoying more than I remember the movie itself, but my sense that I enjoyed it is strong enough to pick it over the so-so Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > Scorched --> #897
I never heard of Scorched until I found it streaming on Netflix and discovered I liked it. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is a mixed bag, but the parts I like, I like well enough to pick it here.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon < Dracula: Dead and Loving It --> #897
I dig both Holmes and Dracula, and I find things to enjoy about both of these films. Ultimately, it comes down to this: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon feels like a glorified serial, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a surprisingly attentive parody. Drac wins.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > The Big Tease --> #885
I wish The Big Tease had lived up to my appreciation of Craig Ferguson. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon wins this one on the basis of Rathbone.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > The Story of O --> #879
Both films have a terrific premise that interests me, but both also suffer from pacing issues. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon feels too perfunctory; The Story of O just becomes tedious. Perfunctory > tedious.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon > Thor --> #876
I wanted to like both of these more than I actually do. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon was more interesting, so it gets the nod over Thor.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon Oz, the Great and Powerful --> #875
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon features a wonderful performance by Basil Rathbone, whereas Oz, the Great and Powerful managed to squander Mila Kunis. Unforgivable. Holmes wins.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon < Dracula: Dead and Loving It --> #875
Yep, I'm sure of it. Dracula: Dead and Loving It was more satisfying for me.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon entered my Flickchart at #875/1512